“It’s not like the picture is saved forever, Mom! It’s gone in a moment!!”

The phrase “in a moment” is so common to us, the action of that phrase can have lasting consequences, however!

At one time it may have sounded like a great way to control images, videos, and texts shared with friends, but exchanges may not involve quite as much automatic security as kids expect. Snapchat still offers some: Kids can, for instance, set Snaps to expire 10 seconds after they’re seen. But they also can choose to make messages available indefinitely, and much of the public content seems to be available to view repeatedly. Kids can also hide their location when sharing items by utilizing Ghost mode, but they can’t disable the Snap Maps feature once they’ve set it up.

A mix of popular content is showcased in the Spotlight section, including items that are trending due to sounds, topics, or the lenses that were used to make them. Those items are moderated before being posted. Users can combine Snaps with a Remix feature, play original multiplayer games within the app, and video-chat with up to 15 friends at once — or block or mute individual friends’ Stories. Content could end up being shared in a more public way than kids intended, if they aren’t clear on the necessary privacy and other settings. Parents may also be concerned kids will use the app to exchange inappropriate content because, if it’s set to expire quickly, there will be no record of it. The app introduced controls in 2022 that give parents some visibility of their child’s usage, including who their child has been corresponding with. Parents have to install the app on their phone or other device, though, and the process requires them to link their accounts by adding their child as a friend. Their child then still needs to accept an invitation to opt in to the Family Center functionality, and parents won’t be able to see specific content their child has sent or received — just the people their child is connected to and who they’ve sent messages, photos, or videos to in the last seven days. Some of the app’s features may make kids feel pressured to spend a significant amount of time using it. Snapstreaks, for example, involve trading Snaps within 24 hours over a period of days and may prompt kids to remain tied to their phone. Charms, given to commemorate interactions and relationships, could also serve as an incentive to keep repeatedly sending messages. Rewards of $250 or more are also doled out for highly viewed videos that were submitted to challenges in the Spotlight section. As with any media-sharing tool, teens should be cautious and thoughtful about which images and other items they send using Snapchat — and also keep in mind that, in actuality, most types of seemingly risk-free messaging likely aren’t.

Talk to Your Kids About …

  • Families can talk about the long-term effects of sharing what are assumed to be private moments through apps like Snapchat. How can you be sure that these moments are truly private? Should you expect that multiple people can see what you’re sharing?
  • Families can discuss the long-term effects of using extensive photo and beauty filters, and whether or not there’s a mental health impact in the form of anxiety, insecurity, and/or negative body image. Do you think these filters reinforce unrealistic beauty standards?
  • Parents also can remind kids that nothing, once it’s posted to the internet, ever really goes away — and it can come back to haunt them. How could a mistake or a bad decision online continually show up again and again?